Hike to the Tiger’s Nest – Paro Taktsang Monastery, Bhutan

posted in: Bhutan, Heritage, Nature | 80

Take a look at the picture below. I am pretty sure that most of you will recognize this as a famous landmark of Bhutan. The Paro Taktsang Monastery in Bhutan is one hiking destination that almost every traveler has on their bucket list. And rightly so, when you see the precarious manner in which it hangs off a cliff. Plenty of questions might be running through your head – on how it was built and why it is so famous. I too had the same and to answer them, I undertook this hike to the Tiger’s Nest.

Paro Taktsang or the Tiger's Nest Monastery in Bhutan
Paro Taktsang or the Tiger’s Nest Monastery in Bhutan

Tiger’s Nest is the other name that the Paro Taktsang Monastery is known as. From the time I had seen this picture, I have been dreaming of clicking one myself. I had read almost all that I could about this fascinating place and there were two aspects that had me desperate to get here – one the elusive monastery whose interiors are not available anywhere on the web and two – the moderate hiking trail itself. Naturally, when we finalized Bhutan as our family holiday destination this year, the hike to Paro Taktsang was one uncompromisable activity. I just had to do it to satisfy the Indiana Jones in me! And boy, was it an adventure!

History of the Paro Taktsang Monastery

Guru Rinpoche
Guru Rinpoche

One of the key figures in Bhutan Buddhism is Guru Padmasambhava or Guru Rinpoche. Believed to have been born from a Lotus, he is the Buddha responsible for bringing Buddhism to Bhutan. He is said to have several manifestations. Of these, one of them involves him traveling on the back of a tigress from Tibet to this mountain in the 8th century. The tigress was a form that his consort Yeshe Tsogyal took as she accompanied him here. Local lore says that he flew here to one of the caves and meditated for over 8 years. Some even say that he destroyed one of the Tiger Demons and hence, the name of the monastery – Taktsang, which in the local language means Tiger’s Nest.

Paro Taktsang Monastery as seen from the base
Paro Taktsang Monastery as seen from the base

Guru Rinpoche’s caves were used by the other Buddhist Monks from Tibet and over time, a structure was constructed around these caves. However, it was only in the 1690s that the first temple around these caves was built by the then king of Bhutan – Gyalse Tenzin Rabgye. Since then the temple has faced at least two fires and quite a bit, including the paintings, were destroyed, The current structure is restored post the last fire of 1998 with the help of the Bhutan Government. And that is what you get to see today.

Stage one of the Tiger’s Nest Hike

Start of our Paro Taktsang Hike
Start of our Paro Taktsang Hike

As always, the best for the last – the Paro Taktsang Hike was scheduled for the last day of our Bhutan trip. All of us – including my minx daughter and my hubby were up bright and early to get this going. Our driver cum guide – Suchit, had told us many a tale of how long it normally took to get to the top and how tough it was. However, we were unperturbed and quite confident of making it well in time. With a quick visit to the ticket counter, and a rental of a stick (just in case required), we were off. Suchit was a little concerned about leaving us to do this on our own but then, he hadn’t heard of this Indiana Jones. 😉

Prayer wheel at the base of Paro Taktsang
Prayer wheel at the base of Paro Taktsang

Ash, my hubby decided to time the hike as his personal challenge, the little minx followed the suit and well, who am I to say no! Off we were, racing the mules who were carrying some of the other hikers to the midpoint. The two rangers continued the steep climb while the Indiana Jones (a.k.a Yours Truly) kept pace but stopped here and there to take pictures. How could I not – for right at the start was a small spring that turned the prayer wheel with its force.

The first break for the mules along the Paro Taktsang Hike
The first break for the mules along the Paro Taktsang Hike

Steady progress was being made by the party until suddenly, someone familiar came up beside me. Suchit was a tad bit worried that we might need help and decided to check on us. Only to reach us panting for we had far out-stripped his expected pace. Given that were are already at the end of Stage one, he decided to go back and leave us to our fate 😉

Posing at the first drinking station with a view of Tiger's Nest
Posing at the first drinking station with a view of Tiger’s Nest

With burning calf muscles –  (yes, I ain’t Superwoman) before I knew it, I had reached the first mark of our ascent – the drinking station with a view of the Paro Taktsang. It seemed far yet not so!

The Half-Way Mark to Paro Taktsang

The climb to the half way point of Tiger's Nest
The climb to the half way point of Tiger’s Nest

If you thought I had crossed Stage One, nope not yet. The water station was just one-fourth of the journey. With those few seconds of a photo capture of the monastery, I raced ahead to get closer to my target. The path was quite steep and uneven but that is what frankly made it fun. Ask my Pilates instructor – she knows that I thrive on that burning pain that your muscles give you. Hey – not weird! It’s the pain of progress 😉

The cafe at the half-way point of Tiger's Nest Hike
The cafe at the half-way point of Tiger’s Nest Hike

I passed by another set of prayer wheels and drinking station before I reached the halfway point of Paro Taktsang. I could see many of the other climbers heave a sigh of relief as they saw the cafe to re-energize themselves. Ponies and Mules made their way to the drinking station after their riders got off them. This is the point beyond which the creatures are not allowed. Everyone becomes equal from now for everyone has to climb from hereon.

Stage Two: The Taktsang Monastery Viewpoint

Rugged trails of Paro Taktsang Hike
Rugged trails of Paro Taktsang Hike

Running high on adrenaline, I chose not to take a break and continue my hike. The terrain got steeper and within a few minutes, I realized that I was the only one climbing. Ash and the minx had already gone ahead while the ones with me and behind me were still at the cafe. As rugged the path was, it was still well marked and that was a guiding force for me.

Green Pretty Hiking Trails of Tiger's Nest, Paro
Green Pretty Hiking Trails of Tiger’s Nest, Paro
Colorful trees of Paro Taktsang Trail
Colorful trees of Paro Taktsang Trail
Along the Paro Taktsang Hiking Trail
Along the Paro Taktsang Hiking Trail – as it straightens up.

Cheerful prayer flags encouraged me to not lose pace. Small signboards here and there, kept me positive about my progress. And then, there were beautiful trees and flowers, amidst which I could see my target. After some point, the trail straightens up and the climbing almost ceases. Before I knew it, I had already reached the iconic viewpoint of Paro Taktsang. In fact, now that I think of it, the 2nd stage of my climb was the easiest – though I am sure a lot of you might not agree!

Tiger's Nest as seen between the pretty greens of the Hiking trail
Tiger’s Nest as seen between the pretty greens of the Hiking trail

Stage Three: At the doorstep of Paro Taktsang

Another angle of the Tiger's Nest Monastery from the Viewpoint.
Another angle of the Tiger’s Nest Monastery from the Viewpoint.

The joy of capturing this with my camera was the moment that I ticked off one destination from my travel bucket list. I knew then that it would not be long before I was at the doorstep of the famed monastery. However, this viewpoint is just an illusion of you being at the monastery. Yet another descent and ascend awaited me.

Last stage of Paro Taktsang Hike
Last stage of Paro Taktsang Hike

I could see Ash and my minx climbing the final staircase to Paro Taktsang as I descended the viewpoint. Somehow the sight of them and the monastery had bolstered my energy. Literally skipping down two steps, I reached this gorgeous sight of red rhododendrons around a misty waterfall. In some ways, this is exactly how the entrance to a fairytale castle is described.

Yeshe Tsogyal Cave along the Paro Taktsang Hike
Yeshe Tsogyal Cave along the Paro Taktsang Hike

At this point, remember to glance up the cliff for a hidden cave. This is where the Tigress Consort – Yeshe Tsogyal meditated. I did not know that you could climb here else, I might have attempted it. I got to know this after I had returned to base. :-(. In any case, at that point, ignorance was bliss and finally, I climbed the last leg of stairs to reach the famed Tiger’s Nest.

Unraveling the secrets of Paro Taktsang

United with my family, I celebrated my hike with a bottle of water. I was desperate for some as I did not have any water along the way. Not owing to adrenaline but for my silly mistake of leaving my bottle in Ash’s backpack. 😉 Having deposited our belongings, including my camera at the entrance, we entered the Paro Taktsang Monastery.

Check point at Tiger's Nest Monastery where you need to deposit your belongings
Check point at Tiger’s Nest Monastery where you need to deposit your belongings

Since there are no pictures available of the interiors, you will have to rely on your imagination of how it is from inside. There are over 8 shrines at various levels in the temple. If you thought that your hike was done by reaching the monastery, let me take some sarcastic pleasure in sharing that there are a few more stairs to climb. Each of these shrines is at different levels and while the climb is not much, given the longer hike, your muscles will protest.

Entrance to the Paro Taktsang Monastery
Entrance to the Paro Taktsang Monastery

The main shrine here is devoted to Guru Rinpoche. At this shrine, remember to glance to your left for a decorated door. This leads to the cave where he is said to have meditated. However, except for once a year during the Paro festival, this door is closed.

The guides here explain the significance of each idol and shrine in detail and if you are like me, you will love to sponge it all in. There are some interesting rituals and beliefs of Paro Taktsang Monastery that you will come across while you visit the many shrines. Like this one, where you have a huge crevice on the floor of one of the shrines. It is fenced and covered. When you glance down, you will see lots of money around a single hole far below. Belief has it that if you are pure at heart, then any money that you throw in (only currency notes), will go into that groove.

Did I try it? Nope. For I had left my wallet in the locker 😉 But it was amusing seeing the others try it out as they cheated on how they threw their notes. Some rolled it up, some aimed it and well, some just tried again and again!

Paro Valley from Taktsang Monastery, Bhutan
Paro Valley from Taktsang Monastery, Bhutan

Another interesting thing that I learned was that the mountain on which the Taktsang Monastery was built resembled the face of Guru Rinpoche. There is an old photo of the mountain at the monastery where you can see it for yourself. I made a mental note to check it when I reached the base later.

The one thing that I absolutely loved was finding a cave, where you needed to descend the narrow crevices using a wooden ladder. It was three levels down and quite precarious. Remember to at least check it out even if you don’t want to attempt exploring it. Me? Of course, I did try it out! 😉

Journey Back to the base

The Triumphant Trio at Paro Taktsang
The Triumphant Trio at Paro Taktsang

With a few moments of just enjoying the view from high up there, we started our journey back to the base. It felt good to pick up the pace as we climbed down the first flight of staircase until we reached past the waterfall where you had to ascend again. I think I gave my muscles too much of rest for they were now protesting hard. This is exactly why on my ascent I did not take a break. The lousy muscles always get spoilt with even a small rest.

Descent from Tiger's Nest, Paro
Descent from Tiger’s Nest, Paro

In any case, we pushed through that last ascent and sped down. It was fun as we let ourselves loose on the slopes. I kept encouraging the other climbers to push through their last mile. It felt good to see their tired face break into a smile when I said – “Go on, just a little more. You are almost there!“.

Hiking Friends _Paro Taktsang
Hiking Friends at Paro Taktsang

One of the things about hikes is that you make friends along the way. At the end of the day, the same pain and peer encouragement bond you with strangers. I made many friends that day including these young men from Australia. It was fun catching up with them and sharing a laugh or two as the guide explained the rituals of the land. I am sure none of us will forget each other.

Frisky & Me at Paro Taktsang
Frisky & Me at Paro Taktsang

The half-way point came quicker than anticipated and bidding goodbye to our Aussie Friends, we continued our descent. However, this is always room for some Drama. We were followed by a lone pony, who meant no harm. However, my minx is terrified of animals. She refused to go past the pony and so I took the lead. Strange but funny that the pony – I call him Frisky, decided to obey me. He stopped when I did and followed me when I started. At some point, he overtook me and then waited till I caught up. Call it a freak chance or as I would like to believe – a bond!

Can you see the face of the Guru Rinpoche in this mountain?
Can you see the face of the Guru Rinpoche in this mountain?
Glancing up at Paro Taktsang
Glancing up at Paro Taktsang

Frisky stayed with me till I reached the first prayer wheel by the spring. I bid him goodbye as I had finally come back to the ground. We had done it – the mighty venture to the Iconic Tiger’s Nest in 3 hours (plus one of exploring the monastery). We all turned back and gazed high up to where we had been. And yes, we did see the face of Paro Taktsang. I wonder if you can too?

Getting here

  • Paro has an international airport and the Paro Taktsang Monastery is just a half an hour ride from the airport. Any cab will take you there.

Travel Tips

  • October to May is the best season for this trek.
  • Dress in layers as it can get pretty cold at that height. Wear long-sleeved tops and full-length bottoms as you will be entering a religious place once at the peak. Hiking shoes are highly recommended.
  • The Paro Taktsang Monastery is at an elevation of 3120m above sea level. It is advisable to wait for a day or so after you arrive in Paro to do this hike – so that you can avoid AMS by acclimatizing yourselves. More on AMS in this post.
  • The entire hike is just around 7 km each way but owing to the elevation, you will need to keep aside anything between 5 to 7 hours for the trip.
  • The ticket window opens at 8 am every day but shuts down by 12 pm. The entrance fees here is 500 Nu for all non-Bhutanese nationals. If you are on a government prescribed package, then this fee is already paid by you.  The Government prescribed package is the Bhutan tourist package that every foreign national (except Indians, Bangladeshis and Maldivians) have to pay for. More on this coming up in my Bhutan Travel Guide.
  • A guide will be a part of your hike if you are on the Bhutan tourist package. For the others, like us, you can get a group guide at the monastery. They do not ask for any fees but a small tip would be a good gesture.
  • The trail is quite steep and you might need a walking stick if you are not used to climbing inclines. You can get this on hire for 50 Nu at the entrance of the monastery.
  • There are restrooms at the start and near the cafe
  • Drinking water is available at regular intervals.
  • One can have lunch or snacks at the mid-point cafe.
  • It is best to start the trek at 8 am. Stick to a pace that you are comfortable with. It is not difficult. They say that the oldest person to have done this is a 92-year-old lady. Kids can also, manage this with a little help. We did see a lot of kids.
  • Mules and Ponies are allowed only half way. I would recommend this only for smaller kids.
  • At the base, you will find a lot of small make-shift shops selling Bhutanese handicrafts. The rates are quite reasonable.
Shopping at the Base of Paro Taktsang
Shopping at the Base of Paro Taktsang

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80 Responses

  1. Guru

    Hey great post! Thanks for vivid description about Bhutan. Really you had a great time in Bhutan but serious many feels to climb. Gorgeous pictures you have taken. I’ll definitely add this place in my travel list. Thanks for sharing!

    • Ami

      Am sure then this place will give you the mix of nature and culture. Thanks for the lovely comment, Chloe and I hope you reach this place soon.

  2. Dada

    Bravo for your succesful family hike! This is really my kind of vaccation! I must say that I was lovely suprised that one need to actually walk and make some efforts to get close to Paro Taktsang! Makes this place more attractive to me! Ofcourse as a hike lover, walking this trail all the way to the monastery would be a dream!

    • Ami

      Trust me, if you love hikes, this is one amazing one. Not too difficult nor too easy. Just right, Thanks for the lovely comment and hope to catch you soon on the blog again.

  3. xhobdo

    wow awesome post. Amazing Monastery. Thanks for the details travel post. Hope some will visit Tiger’s Nest.
    Greetings.

  4. Deeptha

    A must-visit when one heads to Bhutan. I believe it is one of the most challenging monasteries to get to! The climb is not easy but well worth the effort. The monastery looks so magical. I am sure you are mighty pleased with your adventure.

    • Ami

      Very pleased to have been able to get there and have some fun while doing so. I hope you get to it too. Cheers

  5. preeti gautam

    wow Awesome blog. The way you described each and everything about Bhutan is just awesome. the pictures you take is superb. One day i will surely love to visit this place. Thanks for sharing your views with us.

  6. Medha Verma

    Bhutan is gorgeous! It’s been on my list for so long and especially this hike to Tiger’s nest, I’ve seen several pictures of the monastery perched on the cliff and it’s definitely somewhere I’d love to go! So cool that you made friends along the way on your hike, that’s the best thing about travelling alone I feel. You tend to be more open to talking to other people and sometimes, you meet such amazing people!

    • Ami

      Thanks Medha. This is going to be one memorable trek for me for a long long time. And yes, even those friends that you make when you travel, will always be special. cheers

  7. SeemaMisra

    Nice write up on the Tigers Nest trek. I had done last December, and it was such fun. We too had kept this for our last day at Paro. On reaching the monastery, my reaction was more stairs!! The views were so worth the climb.
    Bhutan is one of my favorite places – I simply loved it.

  8. Carolina Colborn

    OMG. I have often wondered how to get there. You gave such a great narrative on how to. Good your calf muscles held. But too bad you left your wallet or you would have done it!

    • Ami

      Yeah, I wouldn’t have minded trying my luck for fun- on dropping that currency in. Ah well…I guess I can try it maybe if I go again ;- ) Thanks for stopping by Carol.

  9. Anindita

    Excellent pics,and kudos to you in completing the 7 km long hike.Meeting people and making friends while travelling can make such beautiful memories

  10. leahshoup

    I’m not normally one for adventure travel, but this hike looks beautiful! Plus, the monastery really does look like something out of a movie. Thanks for breaking down all of the sections of the hike, it’s nice to know what to expect! 🙂

    • Ami

      This one is also a cultural experience Leah. I think you should try this one out. Thanks for stopping by with a lovely comment.

  11. Migration Expert Australia

    Great pictures! I was amaze on how they build the Monastery at the top of the hill. I’m pretty sure you’re having a great adventure.

  12. Ryan Biddulph

    Ami I too love that burn; not weird at all LOL. Progress is awesome. Sometimes highly uncomfortable, or unpleasant, but when hiking such epic scenery with serious grades, hamstring and quad burns set in as muscles fatigue. No way around that one. Brilliant images my friend! Thanks for sharing 🙂

    Ryan

    • Ami

      Thank you Ryan. Glad to know that I am not the only weirdo. 🙂 I loved the whole experience and would gladly welcome the pain all over again for it. Cheers

  13. Susanna Kelly

    I LOVE that you toughed this out and did it on your own. I think that this is the best and most authentic way and sometimes working for the view means the reward is just that much better. Plus I prefer to use my own two feet. I’m so impressed you all kept such a good pace, that your guide left you to it. What a beautiful place and thanks for sharing your story.

    • Ami

      Thanks Susanna. Doing it on our own is what made it sweeter. Hope you too can get to it. I am sure you will love it

  14. Yukti

    Beautiful guide to hike around Tigers Nest Paro Taktsang in Bhutan. The mountainous way to reach this monastery is very picturesque, though requires lot of physical activity. You have listed all valid points about how to reach here, what to wear and other necessary information. The pictures of monastery are stunning. I would love to purchase some beaded jewelry from those local vendors.

  15. bherron80

    wow such stunning scenery! What an unforgettable experience. The old tree covered in orangy moss looks like a spider to me…..!

    • Ami

      Ha ha…spider indeed. To tell you the truth, I thought of Aragog from Harry Potter when I saw that. Cheers

  16. Danila Caputo

    Tiger’s nest has been on out bucket list for years now! You’re right, it calls to our inner Indiana Jones, and from your pictures it looks it was worth all the “hassle” to get there!

  17. Debra Schroeder

    This has been on my bucket list for a long time. Enjoyed the visual journey. That’s some hike, looks like I’ll need to get in better shape before I try it.

    • Ami

      I would say it is a good balance of moderate and easy in terms of difficulty. I hope you can get to it soon enough. It is a lovely place. Thanks for stopping by Debra.

  18. 凱西林

    Yay to crossing off an item on your bucket list! 7km one way isn’t too bad, but the steep elevation makes it a challenge. But if you have beautiful scenery and a great company, that will make it easier 🙂

    • Ami

      Indeed, the vibe of the place is what keeps you going. And makes the hike fun. Hope you get to it too. cheers

    • Ami

      Ah well, some things are just worth the price. In any case, it is a once in a lifetime thing. So, I did not really mind paying it. Cheers

  19. Blair Villanueva

    OMG this is gorgeous and mystical! I think I’ve seen this to one kung fu movie, and it is one of the best shot. You are so brave and lucky to visit this tiger’s nest 😀

  20. lelagoon

    Nice blog and pictures, really enjoyed reading it. thanks for sharing

  21. Milijana

    I keep a folder called “Temples to see” and in the folder is the Tiger’s Nest. As someone who comes from Europe, I am planning to visit Bhutan and Tibet in the same trip. Your tips for visiting the Tiger’s Nest are highly useful! Thank you !!

    PS: At the moment; i am in a search for good hiking shoes. Please, any recos? 🙂

    Milijana

    • Ami

      I hope you get to it sooner. U will love it for sure. As far as hiking boots, Quechua worked well for us. Wildcraft is another good one 🙂

    • Ami

      It does have some shades of Srinagar and some of Ladakh. It is a lovely place. Thanks for stopping by

  22. Marvi

    Kudos on completing that hike and finally ticking off a bucketlist! This sure does not sound like an easy hike yet I like how positive you were all throughout! You must’ve felt so proud of your daughter to have climbed it with you and even making it to the top first! 🙂 I know I would be if my daughter is as strong as her! Now, I’m intrigued with the templet’s interior too! Such gorgeous view, btw! 🙂

    • Ami

      I am extremely proud of her. She was just amazing. A little monkey climbing with ease. The interiors are quite fascinating for history buffs and I think the whole cave thing makes it mystifying. I hope that you can get down to visiting it. Thanks for stopping by

  23. Marissa

    This monastery is absolutely breathtaking. I can only imagine how it’d look like in person. Even though it sounds like it was a pretty tough and steep hike, I’m sure it was more than worth it once you reached the top.

    • Ami

      Totally worth every minute and breath. I loved climbing this one and am sure you will love it too. Plan for it.

  24. Janine Thomas

    What a fantastic hike. There is something about Bhutan in my mind that always seems exotic. I love the legends and stories . Does the money stay in the crevice forever of is it collected and used for something useful?

    • Ami

      I believe it is used for the maintenance of the place. And also, for some charity work. Though, frankly, it looked as it had been not collected for a while. 🙂 Thanks for stopping by Janine.

  25. Kate

    The position of this monastery perched on those cliffs is unreal. This looks absolutely worth the hike, even if you aren’t allowed inside! And, how awesome that you were able to make some new friends in the process!

    • Ami

      I think it is the unreal position that makes this place so epic. And the hike for me even more so. Am glad to have found new friends along the way. Thanks for stopping by, Kate.

  26. Niels Thomas

    That first shot is amazing! Such a beautiful place and you really captured my attention with that photo. I also like your summary at the end with travel tips during this hike. You would be surprised how many tourists do these hard hikes without any preparation. Great article! 🙂

    • Ami

      Yep, this one I found a lot of them unprepared. Considering it is safe from a path perspective, that is fine but from a fitness perspective, a lot of them did give up. Hope you get to it soon.

  27. Suruchi

    Tiger Nest is so high on the list and after seeing your pictures I am craving to go soon. Ami, this is the first time I have found such a detailed descriptive post on Tiger’s Nest. Thanks for writing and your shots are so so beautiful.

    • Ami

      Thank you Suruchi. The place is a photographer’s paradise. Am sure you will love it too.

  28. Archana Singh

    Too bad I missed visiting Tigers Nest again this season. Guess I’ll have to plan after October as you mentioned oct-May is the best time to visit. Your tips are very helpful. Beautiful pictures.

    • Ami

      Thanks Archana. Oct would be good indeed. Am sure you will enjoy the hike. It will be a piece of cake for you.

  29. Chris Bloomfield

    I have always wanted to visit the Tiger’s Nest and this great article just makes me want to see it more. Since you are not allowed to photograph the inside, I will just have to visit myself and I will make sure to bring lots of water because that looks like a steep hike. I am glad you hiked up with your daughter, now I have faith that my kids will be able to make the journey too.

    • Ami

      Am sure you kids will find it easy. They are a lot more fitter and active compared to us. Hope you visit soon. Cheers

  30. hemtravels

    Wow, Awesome! What a beautiful place.
    Thank you for this travel experience!

  31. Jack hahn

    Hi ami, I the Australian second from right that was a special day I didn’t tell but I have 6 Indian guys who I work with and proud to call them my friends. I had a great time.

    • Ami

      Hiya Jack. Glad you could stop over here. I am sure you know plenty about India from your friends. Do come over for a visit.

  32. Jack Hahn

    Hi ami same if you guys are ever in adelaide please contact me and my wife and I hopefully will be able to show around

    • Ami

      Hope to get there sometime Jack. I did return from Gold Coast just a day back though. However, it was only Gold Coast this time 😀

Would love to know what you think